Letter to the Editor: Are debates dead or alive?

Reader Chloe van Syckel writes about the effect debates have on voters.

As America prepares to tune into the presidential debates, both candidates are preparing to “win.” Worries that the debates might make Joe Biden look weak or that President Donald Trump will say something awful are rampant.

The real question is will these debates affect the election? 

According to Havard’s Business School, televised debates are not shaking the electorate up in the way that politicians and pundits might make you think they do. Debates are negligible in changing voters’ minds when compared to televised ads, social media, and voter contact. Televised debates are not likely to persuade voters for a multitude of reasons. The debates come extremely late in the game for many voters and Americans are stubborn by nature, so they are less likely to change their minds once it is made up. Political scientists have researched the polling data for years looking for an inclination that televised debates make a difference for candidates. Unfortunately, no such correlation exists. These debates cost millions of dollars, yet make no discernible dent when it comes to actually voting. In fact, the debates aren’t even successful in convincing young and uneducated voters to vote a certain way. This is because young and uneducated people are less likely to watch the debates and vote. 

There are some positives to these debates, even if they don’t provide that “push” to the ballot box. A debate is an opportunity for candidates to clarify points of their platform, to get sound bites and to be seen. Trump’s and Biden’s campaigns are working around the clock to prepare for this debate, which ultimately will sway no one, cost millions and be spun out of control by polarized media sources. It is almost entirely worthless, but in a pandemic, it might be the only way for people to connect with candidates.

Chloe van Syckel